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Young offenders

Those aged 17 or under, who have committed an offence, are classified as 'young offenders'. A wide range of sentences is available to the youth justice system for young offenders, and imprisonment is a last resort.

Age of 'criminal responsibility'

Ten is the legal age of 'criminal responsibility'

Children under the age of ten are not considered to have reached an age where they can be held responsible for their crimes. Because they are under the age of 'criminal responsibility', they can't be charged with any criminal offence.

Children aged 10-14 can be convicted of a criminal offence if it can be proved that they were aware that what they were doing was seriously wrong.

After the age of 14, young people are considered to be fully responsible for their own actions - in the same way as an adult would. However, there are some differences in the type of sentencing young offenders will receive.

Sentencing young offenders

When young people first get into trouble for committing minor offences, or for anti-social behaviour, they can be dealt with outside the court system. For anti-social behaviour, the police and local authority can use pre-court orders, such as Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs) or Child Safety Orders. For first- or second-time minor offences, the police can use Reprimands and Final Warnings.

The Youth Courts

The Youth Court is a section of the magistrates' court and can be located in the same building. It deals with almost all cases involving young people under the age of 18. This section of the magistrates' court is served by youth panel magistrates and district judges. They have the power to give Detention and Training Orders of up to 24 months, as well as a range of sentences in the community.

Youth courts are less formal than magistrates' courts (which deal with cases involving people aged over 18). they are more involved with the young person appearing in court and their family. Youth courts are essentially private places and members of the public are not allowed in. The victim (or victims) of the crime, however, can attend the hearings of the court if they want to, but they must make a request to the court to do this.

Crown Court

In very serious cases, a young person charged with an offence will have to appear in a Crown Court, rather than a Youth Court. The cases a Crown Court is likely to deal with include:

  • those sent to the Crown Court from youth courts due to the seriousness of the offence; some offences, which are called 'indictable only', can only be tried in a Crown Court - these offences include murder, rape and robbery
  • cases where the offence the young person is being tried for could be heard either in a Magistrates' Court or Crown Court if the offender was an adult
  • cases sent to the Crown Court from magistrates' courts or youth courts for sentencing
  • appeals against sentences given in magistrates' courts or youth courts

Attendance Centres

Some young offenders may also be required to attend an Attendance Centre (for example, if they breach an ASBO). Young offenders (both male and female) aged 10-25 may be sent to the centres as an alternative to other community sentences or detention. The centres are intended to reduce crime in low-risk offenders by addressing the causes of crime at their roots.

Centres have programmes of activity concentrating on working in a structured and disciplined group setting, with sessions designed to develop personal responsibility and self-discipline, and to improve basic skills such as numeracy, literacy and money management. 

Additional links

Going to court

Being a witness and serving as a juror: find out more and watch video guides

Talk about knives

If there's a knife in your child's hands, it's in your hands to stop it

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